Don’t Do Every Project

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There are a lot of things to juggle as a project manager. You have timelines, budgets, and resources to worry about – not to mention the actual project itself. With so many balls in the air, it can be tempting to take on every new opportunity that comes your way. But don’t do every project!

Problem: You feel you have to take on every project

You sometimes (or often) feel that you are required to take on every project you are offered. You may feel pressured or obligated to do every project your company or clients give to you.

However, doing every project is not good for you, for your clients or for your company.

You need to know when to say no, and how to say no without hurting your career and your business.

We all want to do more projects for our clients. But what about when you get wrapped up in too many projects? What happens then? Is it worth taking on more projects? How many projects can you handle before it becomes overwhelming?

These are vital questions for any project manager to consider. You don’t want to be over-extended and under-deliver on your projects. You may be tempted to take on every project that’s offered to you, but this can be a mistake.

Taking on too many projects, or saying yes to the wrong ones can lead to a number of problems:

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  • It can make you and your team become overwhelmed and lead to burnout.
  • Juggling too many projects means that you won’t have enough time for each one, resulting in lower-quality work overall.
  • You could end up with poor results across some or all of your projects
  • Schedule and cost overruns.
  • Too many projects or the wrong projects can prevent you from focusing on projects that are more important, impactful or profitable.
  • Your productivity may lower across all your projects.
  • You can lose focus and prioritise the wrong tasks.

Another issue is taking on existing projects. Your company may have an existing project that is already underway. You may be asked to take it over (such as when the previous project manager left the company). However, it may be over budget, behind schedule, or not able to be delivered properly due to lack of resources or skills.

Solution: Work out whether to say no to a project

Determine whether you should say no to a project.

Not every project is the right fit for you or your company. Before taking on a new project, be sure to assess whether or not it’s the right move for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding if you should take on a certain project:

  1. Is this something that we should be working on? This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s important to take a step back and evaluate whether or not this is something that your company should be working on. There may be other projects that would have a bigger impact on your business.
  2. What are our goals for this project? Once you’ve determined that this is something you should work on, it’s important to set clear goals for the project and communicate them to all stakeholders involved. Having defined objectives will help keep everyone focused and ensure that everyone knows what they need to do in order to achieve success.
  3. Do we have the resources available? Taking on a new project means committing resources – both time and money – so make sure you have enough of both available before starting anything up front. If you don’t have enough of either, it might be worth considering postponing the project until you do 
  4. Do I and my team have the right skill sets to deliver this project? If not, can we get the right people within a reasonable time frame and cost, if not then you should not do that project.
  5. Will taking on this new project interfere with any other projects that I am currently working on?
  6. What are the risks associated with this project? Every new undertaking comes with some level of risk, so it’s important to identify those risks early on and come up with strategies for mitigating them as much as possible. You might also determine that the project is too risky to take on. You could pass it on to a more experienced or knowledgeable person in your company, or reject it entirely and recommend the client go to another company to do that project. Of course if you can recommend the right person or company that will encourage the client to come back to you for other future projects that may be more suitable to you.

Taking over existing projects

If you are asked to take over a project that is already underway, I recommend you do a good review of it before you formally accept it. You need a proper handover of the project to ensure you are aware of the deliverables, budget, and schedule. 

It is a common occurrence that an existing project is failing due to budget or schedule overruns, or unacceptable deliverables (i.e. low quality). If you have to accept it anyway, you should make a revised plan and state that you will deliver to this revised plan. 

You are showing your boss (and possibly the client) that you are aware of the issues and that you cannot be held personally responsible if the project is not delivered to the original plan. However, you should commit to your revised plan. Your boss or client may not like this, but it is better than accepting the project as it is and getting blamed for the mistakes of previous project managers. 

If you are able to then deliver closer to the original plan, that is a bonus, but you should not guarantee that. They can then rely on you and trust you to deliver what you have agreed to, not what was previously agreed to.

The legal and financial repercussions to your company are a whole different matter if the project is delivered later, at higher cost, or lower quality than the original contract. You can help mitigate these issues, but the blame should not be on you.

Lesson: Don’t do every project

You should not take on every project you are offered or that is available to you. Doing so can lead to personal or team burnout, cause your company to lose money, or it can affect the quality of the projects you deliver. None of these are good for your business.

Learn to say no, and also learn how to say no the right way.

When you’re approached with a new project, it can be difficult to know how to say no. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind that can help you confidently turn down a project.

  • Say you don’t have the time. Be honest with yourself, your team and your client (or boss) about whether you have the time to commit to the project. If you’re already stretched thin, it’s not worth taking on something else. Doing so will just lead to low quality work or going over the project schedule.
  • Say it does not fit within your goals and priorities. If you are the only person in the business (such as a freelancer), consider your goals and priorities. Is this project in line with what you’re trying to achieve? If not, it’s probably not worth your time. If you are part of a larger company, you still need to consider whether the project is a fit with the goals and priorities of the company.
  • Tell them you are not the right person for the project. If you do that, it is always best to recommend someone who is more suitable to do that project.

Don’t be afraid to be direct. Sometimes people will try to pressure you into taking on a project, but you have to be firm in your decision.

Saying no to a project can be tough, but it’s important to be honest with yourself and others about what you can and can’t commit to.

Remember also, if you take on an existing project, review it before formally accepting it. You may need to revise the project plan to show a new schedule and budget. Showing this upfront is better than being seen as a failure later for failing to deliver a project that was already over budget and behind schedule.

Doing every project eventually leads to project failure.
Learn to say no. But do it politely, diplomatically, and explain your reasons clearly. Be firm but polite. If you are just not good at saying no, then you need to learn how to say no.

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